Over the last couple of years, I have seen a number of patients that experienced a sudden sensorineural (originating in the inner ear) hearing loss. Most of them woke up with a “blocked” feeling in one ear or noticed during the day that they cannot hear people clearly when they speak on the one side.  Some people experience only hearing loss, while others also experience associated symptoms, such as a ringing or hissing sound in the ear (tinnitus) and/or dizziness. Mostly only the one ear is affected, although I have also seen patients where both ears where affected.

Unfortunately, most of them put of seeing their doctor for weeks and even months, because they believed the loss was caused by earwax or sinus infections and hoped that it will resolve by itself. Most of them ended up with permanent hearing loss.

With this piece I want to motivate people to not wait, because receiving timely treatment greatly increases the chance of recovering at least some of your hearing.

In most patients the exact cause of the loss cannot be identified or confirmed, but some of the conditions associated with sudden hearing loss include; 

  • Infections
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Head trauma
  • Exposure to medication to treat severe infections or cancer
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis
  • Disorders of the inner ear, such as Meniere’s disease

So what should you do if you experience sudden hearing loss?

 

  1. Visit your general practitioner as soon as possible. Studies show that delaying treatment for more than two weeks drastically reduces the chances of reversing or reducing permanent hearing loss. The most common treatment for sudden sensorineural hearing loss is corticosteroids and it is often prescribed even before all test results are back. Your doctor will first rule out the presence of conductive causes for the loss, such as earwax or middle ear infection.
  2. Visit an audiologist soon after you visited your GP. The audiologist will perform a diagnostic hearing test to confirm the nature of the loss (i.e. is it conductive or sensorineural) and determine the degree of loss.
  3. If a sensorineural hearing loss is confirmed, your doctor might refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist for further testing, such as blood tests and/or imaging (usually MRI).
  4. Once the treatment is completed you should visit the audiologist again to measure the change in hearing.

If your hearing loss did not respond to treatment or if there is some residual loss your audiologist will be able to assist with valuable advice on treatment options. Due to rapid advances in technology a variety of hearing solutions are available.

So, when it comes to your hearing, never take the wait and see approach! Much better to be over cautious, than sorry!

Give us your thoughts on your hearing medical emergency?